Rav Yisroel Salanter explains that the Asseres Yemei Teshuvah begins with Rosh Hashanah because Hashem knows that in order for us to do teshuvah we need “shock treatment.” For many of us this year, though, our shock came on Motzaei Rosh Hashanah with the news of the petirah of Reb Shlomo Zakheim, zt”l. So hopeful that the New Year would bring a yeshuah, the news simply crushed us.
On Rosh Hashanah every human being passes in front of Hashem in din. At Shlomo’s levayah this past Sunday, the mashgiach of Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, Rav Matisyahu Salomon, shlita, suggested that perhaps the reason why Hashem took Reb Shlomo on Rosh Hashanah was to silence the keteigurim (prosecutors) who were testifying against klal Yisrael. Hashem had to bring them one person who could silence them all. He chose Reb Shlomo.
“Ish Elokim” was the title that Rav Salomon bestowed on Reb Shlomo. Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, shlita, said, “Reb Shlomo walked with Hashem.” He stressed that this was done with both feet on the ground. Shlomo was very normal, a regular guy; yet so extraordinary was his love for klal Yisrael. He would help any Jew in need. And Shlomo’s youngest son, Moshe, pointed out that although his father was involved with countless individuals, he always made time for his family. He said that his father was never too busy to speak with him or his siblings when they would call.
Many of the speakers described the vast chesed that Reb Shlomo performed on a daily basis. Shlomo arranged for medical procedures for regular people who needed them. He would find the only doctor in the country who could perform the procedure and then fly the patient to the doctor. He paid for all the expenses, including the surgery. This was done anonymously, as were all of his acts of chesed.
Shlomo did chesed that most others were not involved in. As Rabbi Reisman mentioned, Shlomo did not fit the cookie-cutter mold of a regular person. Shlomo made it his business to visit Jonathan Pollard, Robert Manning and others in prison on a regular basis. He arranged for teams of urologists and moelim to perform thousands of brisim on Jews in Russia, Eastern Europe and South America. HaRav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, said that Shlomo arranged for more than ten thousand brisim – and that Eliyahu Hanavi is thus going to greet him.
Shlomo was a great supporter of Chai Lifeline and Camp Simcha. Rabbi Simcha Scholar of Chai Lifeline recalled that when Shlomo first became connected to Chai Lifeline, Rabbi Scholar asked their mutual contact how he could retain Shlomo’s support. The response: “do not give him kavod.” But following his petirah, Rabbi Scholar added, we can all give him kavod.
Shlomo continued to supply helicopter rides to the children of Camp Simcha even in his weakened state of health – just several weeks before his petirah. These incredible selfless acts of chesed will surly silence the keteigurim.
We do not know about the myriad acts of chesed that Shlomo always participated in because he never spoke about them, not even to his family. And Shlomo always refrained from speaking lashon hara. One of the speakers at the levayah asked if anyone could remember a derogatory word ever coming out of Shlomo’s mouth. His closest of friends all testified that Shlomo indeed never spoke an ill word about anyone.
In many instances of Shlomo’s discreet assistance to others, his tremendous acts of kindness only became known accidentally. This is why we will never appreciate the full loss that klal Yisrael experienced with his petirah. This was because, as his son Rav Azriel said, his father acted with true hatzne’ah leches im Hashem Elokecha (walk humbly with your God). Rav Azriel explained that his father was able to accomplish this because of his awesome level of emunah in Hashem. He called him the “posek hador in emunah.”
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